“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
Can you lose your salvation?
It is important that believers feel secure in their salvation. The person who does not feel like their salvation is a settled issue will be looking for the next thing they need to do to keep God happy with them. The person who is sure of their salvation will be able to live a life of holiness out of love and gratitude rather than fear, so we need to get this straight.
Unfortunately, this is another place where there isn’t really a “mere evangelical” view. Though those who believe you can lose your salvation are in the minority, it’s a sizable minority. (Most who believe this think it requires serious sin. It is not lost by your next white lie or lustful thought.) I am going to make the case that you cannot lose your salvation. I believe in the security of the believer for several reasons.
First is Jesus’ words. Jesus said his sheep “shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” As Tony Evans puts it, “No one includes every ‘someone’ in the universe.”1 Neither the Devil, nor his fallen angels, nor even you can take yourself out of Christ’s hand.
Second is the cross. “If any sin can undo a believer’s salvation ... then Christ’s death did not pay for that sin. But it did, Paul asserts.”2 Either the cross of Christ was sufficient for our sins or it wasn’t. There is no in-between.
Third is the very concept of grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith ... not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). We cannot cease to merit salvation because we never merited in the first place.
Fourth is adoption. “If God in love has made Christians his children ... the family relationship must be an abiding one, lasting forever. Perfect parents do not cast off their children.”3
Finally, the doctrine of election. Whatever else it means, election means that God knows those who are his. “For those God foreknew he also predestined ... And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30). In God’s mind, not only our justification but our ultimate glorification were past tense before we were even born.
I believe this makes a solid case for eternal security. However, as important as this doctrine is, it also carries some danger. There are many who live like the devil believing they will go to heaven because “once saved, always saved.” Maybe they prayed the “sinner’s prayer” at church camp or signed a card in vacation Bible school decades ago. Whatever their reason, they think they’re set and can live however they want. So we need to look at the qualifications for having eternal security.
Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” How do you know if you’re one of Jesus’ sheep? You listen to him and follow him. It is not the following him that saves. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith....” But “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Saving faith produces works. Jesus’ sheep want to be more like Jesus.
The Lord warned about the person who “hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” And others will hear but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matt 13:20-22). So not everyone who “responds” to a gospel call truly believes.
So what do we do? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2Cor 13:5). How do we do that? I think the Lord has given us a wonderful tool for such a test in 1John. It ends with “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13, emphasis added), but before you get there, you have gone through several statements of “We know that we have come to know him if ....” Norm Geisler4 provides a nice summary of John’s tests:
- If we keep his commandments (2:3)
- If we walk in love (2:5)
- If we love the brethren (ie, our fellow believers) (3:14)
- If we love in deed, not only in word (3:19)
- If we have the Holy Spirit within us (3:24)
- If we don’t continue in sin* (5:18)
I encourage you to spend some time in 1John contemplating those conditional statements and his final encouragement for believers in 5:13-15.
* This refers to a practice of wilful sin, not those times in which we fail, because “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).
1 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
2 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology
3 JI Packer, Knowing God
4 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology
Part of Christianity 101